Plate, 'Bizarre' range, earthenware, designed by Clarice Cliff, made by Newport Pottery Co Ltd (part of A J Wilkinson Ltd), Burslem, Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, England, c 1928
This plate was designed by Clarice Cliff (1899-1972), one of the best known British ceramic designers of the 20th century. Cliff was the first British ceramicist to develop Art Deco patterns and shapes for commercial production and her boldly coloured designs of the late 1920s and the 1930s significantly influenced fashionable tableware produced by other Staffordshire ceramic factories. The most prominent ceramic designer in Britain between 1927 and 1939, Cliff was also the first woman art director in the Staffordshire potteries.
Born in Tunstall (Stoke-on-Trent), Staffordshire, Clarice Cliff left school at the age of thirteen to become an apprentice enameller and gilder at the local pottery Lingard Webster. She later worked as a lithographer at Hollishead & Kirkham and studied at the Tunstall and Burslem art schools before settling at the A.J. Wilkinson factory in Burslem (Stoke-on-Trent) in 1916. In 1920, Colley Shorter, co-director of A.J. Wilkinson, purchased Newport Pottery, a smaller Burslem pottery located in Newport Lane, which was previously owned by S.W. Dean. Two years later he promoted Cliff as an apprentice modeller under Wilkinson's art director John Butler, a move that coincided with Shorter's plans to diversify the range of his quality earthenware. In 1925, shortly after visiting the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, Cliff began modelling art pottery including hollow cast figures. In 1927 she completed short courses in modelling and drawing at the Royal School of Art in London and later also studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in Bloomsbury. In 1930 Cliff was appointed art director of Newport Pottery Co Ltd.
'Bizarre' was the name of Cliff's first range which was launched in October 1927 featuring designs of brightly coloured triangles and banding that covered entire surfaces of plates, vases and other ware. This plate from the series shows Cliff's use of her favourite bright orange hue contrasted with vivid blue and white. Despite adverse economic conditions, Cliff's 'Bizarre' range was immediately successful and a team of young paintresses (as they were known) was formed at the Newport Pottery to decorate them with deliberately exaggerated brush strokes. These spontaneous brush strokes were to complement Cliff's modernist patterns and to highlight their handpainted nature as opposed to aerographed or sprayed colours commonly used at the time. Commercial interest in 'Bizarre' was so strong that already in 1928 orders were sent to North America, South Africa, Brazil, Cuba and Holland. At least one design (orange, green and black coffee set in 'Tankard' shape) had reached Australia by 1928 where it was retailed by Thomas Webb & Sons in Melbourne.
Innovatively marketed through demonstrations in department stores and at trade shows, from 1928 'Bizarre' became the umbrella title for all Clarice Cliff ware until 1936; it was named 'Original Bizarre' from 1930 onwards. First floral patterns as well as the first Art Deco shapes were added to the 'Bizarre' range in 1928. The same year saw the introduction of the 'Fantasque' range as a Wilkinsons product to split the tax on sales (A.J Wilkinson remained the major factory). Both lines - Bizarre and Fantasque - were distributed in Australia in 1928 by WG South & Cowan Ltd of 352 King Street, Sydney. From 1929, these lines, alongside the prestigious 'Inspiration Bizarre' series, were advertised in Australian trade journals as 'the answer to modernity's plea for more colour, greater simplicity' and were 'obtainable at better class stores' (L Griffin, 'Clarice Cliff, the art of Bizarre', 1999, p.54, ill.).
Clarice Cliff had a strong interest in modern art and her modernist designs were influenced particularly by Cubism, Henri Matisse, the Dutch group De Stijl and artists such as Sonia Delauney, Edouard Benedictus and the French design firm La Maison Desny. She collaborated with many contemporary artists, including Dame Laura Knight, adapting their paintings for her pottery. After 1936, her work was decorated with lithographed designs as well as hand painting.
Clarice Cliff ceramics were already collected in the 1960s. Her first exhibitions at the Brighton Museum in 1972 and at the L'Odeon in 1976, stimulated serious interest in the 1970s as did specialist books published in the 1980s. The original Clarice Cliff Collectors Club was established in 1982 in Britain. Between 1992 and 2002 Wedgwood produced a range of Clarice Cliff reproductions.
L Griffin, 'Clarice Cliff, the art of Bizarre', 1999
R Green, D Jones, 'The rich designs of Clarice Cliff', 1995
L Griffin at all, 'Clarice Cliff, the Bizarre affair', 1988
The plate was designed by Clarice Cliff and made by Newport Pottery Co Ltd, England, c 1928. It is part of the 'Original Bizarre' range, shape no B18.